French answers accusations about tourism committee

Manchester Alderman Bill Nickels has questioned some of the choices of the Manchester Tourism and Community Development Commission. In a recent email to members of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA), Nickels asked about allocation of funds and decisions related to billboards approved by the tourism commission. Nickels resigned from the tourism commission about two months ago. Alderman Ryan French, who also served on the commission until recently, defended the use of funds, saying they were allocated appropriately. Additionally, the initiative is 100% reimbursed by the state, according to French. In Manchester, a total of $50,000 was assigned to be spent on tourism promotion for safe travel, and part of the money was dedicated to billboards promoting safety, according to French.

Nickels: Useless execution of good, important money

“Take the COVID-19 relief billboard on I-24,” Nickels said. “Who came up with that idea? Who was involved?

Nickels also asked about a billboard for the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center.

“When was the vote to spend that money and have you seen the (billboard) that has MCCCC on it?” he said. “Who coming into town would ever know what that was meant to advertise…I drive through there often and wonder what committee, who put that billboard idea together.”

Nickels called this decision “useless execution of good, important money.”

“These things seem to be happening in a vacuum,” Nickels said. “We are setting ourselves up for another miscommunication…where is the accounting?”

French: This is a 100% reimbursed grant program

Alderman Ryan French explained that the billboards project was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The state allocated funds for tourism expenditures to the city, said French.

“This is a 100% reimbursed grant program that was educated by the Chamber of Commerce per the partnership with the tourism commission.

The commission recently saw some changes. Nickels took French’s place, and then resigned and Roxanne Patton took Nickel’s place. Andrea Bates replaced Barbara Arp, according to French.

“While it is true that the tourism commission is going through a transition, the idea that it is somehow an organized chaos is simply not true,” French said. “This is a perfect example of a grant being executed and facilitated by partnership that is organized within the commission itself. The scope of the CARES Act dollars was very specific and can only be spent on certain things. The idea behind the tourism commission was to promote entities that somehow could help take advantage of additional traffic for the entire community.”

French added “the Jack Daniels themed billboards were put up specifically around the time the Jack Daniels started offering tours again,” part of the “Visit Jack and Come on Back” campaign.

“The State of Tennessee was one of only three states to obtain CARES Act dollars for tourism purposes,” French said. “The State Department of Tourist Development allocated $25,000 to the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) of particular counties and also to some chambers and other tourism supporting organizations. In Manchester, a total of $50,000 was assigned to the community to spent specifically on tourism promotion for safe travel. The program came with several guidelines and is a 100% grant via reimbursement.”

The initiative was completed with the help of Manchester Chamber of Commerce Director Katy Riddle. 

“Once the program was announced, Katy Riddle and I discussed the guidelines and I sought out what other communities were doing,” French said. “Several communities were taking out billboard ads, buying custom masks, sanitizers, and other materials to promote safe travel. For example, the City of Winchester took out ads with the campaign ‘For the Love of Tims Ford Lake, Travel Safe.’ The guidelines were a bit tricky, so regional efforts and partnering with neighboring communities was not allowed according to the federal guidelines, as this was something that we considered before making the final proposals.

“The decision was made to do billboards to support local tourism efforts, the TSSAA Golf Tournament, the Conference Center bookings in 2021, and a "Visit Jack and Come on Back" campaign highlighting how many hotel rooms and restaurants we have for folks to enjoy (again, aligned with the reopening of Jack Daniels tours, keep in mind Jack Daniels is our number one tourism asset),” French said. “Once the vote was taken, I did help with the design of the billboards, and Katy worked on all of the financial aspects, reporting to the CARES Act portal, and ordering masks, sanitizers, and other materials. The company we used for billboards offers art consulting at a reduced cost, and has been used in the past, and is frequently used by various tourism efforts across the state as they are a member of Hospitality TN.